The fight against misinformation around the Covid-19 pandemic and other health emergencies received a massive boost this month as the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) to address the problem.

The viral spread of misinformation is a global problem that is empowered by information and communication technology (ICT).

Information about the virus had been shared and viewed over 270 billion times online and mentioned almost 40 million times on Twitter and news websites in the 47 countries of the WHO African Region between February and November 2020, according to UN Global Pulse.

It is understood that a large proportion of this information is inaccurate and misleading and continues to be shared by social media users intentionally or unknowingly every day.

Some of the widely shared misinformation in Africa include conspiracies around unproven treatments, false cures and anti-vaccine messages.

The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance, according to WHO, will work collaboratively to counter false information around Covid-19 vaccines.

The network brings together 13 international and regional organisations and fact-checking groups with expertise in data and behavioural science, epidemiology, research, digital health, and communications to detect, disrupt and counter damaging misinformation on public health issues in Africa.

AIRA is made up of the Africa CDC, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the United Nations Verified initiative, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and United Nations Global Pulse.

Others include Africa Check, Agence France-Presse Fact Check, PesaCheck, Dubawa and Meedan.

‘In health emergencies, misinformation can kill and ensure diseases continue to spread. People need proven, science-based facts to make informed decisions about their health and well-being, and a glut of information – an infodemic – with misinformation in the mix makes it hard to know what is right and real’, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said.

‘This crucial new alliance brings unique reach, knowledge and skills to help stop the impact of dangerous misinformation’.

Similarly, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in partnership with UNICEF, launched an SMS-based interactive chatbot in November to provide accurate information on Covid-19.

NCDC said in a statement that the chatbot would serve as a crucial medium to access validated, vetted and accurate information on issues tied to Covid-19 and Nigeria’s effort to control the pandemic.

The chatbot, which was designed by U-Report, can be accessed for free through Short Message Service (SMS), Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.

‘At NCDC, we always leverage opportunities to use technological solutions to enhance the delivery of our mandate. Technology has been critical for strengthening our public health response to Covid-19’, said NCDC Director-General Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu.

Source: WHO

Photo source: Africa CDC

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